Lesléa Newman

Thirteen Ways of Looking at My Mother

Among seven silent rooms
in the middle of the night
the only moving thing
is a swirl of smoke
rising from the lit tip
of my mother’s cigarette

My mother was of three minds
like the three sorry children
she would someday come to bear

My mother whirled through the kitchen
slamming drawers, banging dishes
clanging pots and pans
She was a noisy part of the pantomime

My mother and her mother
are one
My mother and her mother and her daughter
are one

I do not know which I dread more
arriving at my mother’s house
or leaving it
The pain of being with her
or the pain of being without her

Knitting needles click and clack
as something wooly grows
My mother stares at her creation
Her mood is indecipherable

Oh skinny blonde airbrushed models
staring up at my mother as she flips
through glossy magazines,
Why must you torture her so?

I know how to make matzo balls
big as fists
and how to live on nothing
but cottage cheese, cigarettes, and air
but I know, too
that my mother is involved
in everything I know

When my mother moved
from Brooklyn to Long Island
she marked the edge
of one of many circles

At the sight of my mother
staring back at me
at three in the morning
from the unforgiving bathroom mirror
I cry out sharply

I rode home on the train
and fear pierced me
in that I mistook
the phlegmy hacking cough
coming from three rows back
for the sound of my mother

The ventilator is on
My mother must be breathing

It was twilight all day
and all night long
she was breathing
and she was trying to breathe
my mother lay in the ICU
her hand in mine
holding on for dear life

Lesléa Newman is the author of 70 books for readers of all ages including the poetry collections, Still Life with Buddy, Nobody’s Mother, Signs of Love, and October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard (novel-in-verse) which received a Stonewall Honor from the American Library Association. Her literary awards include poetry fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Massachusetts Artists Foundation; the Burning Bush Poetry Prize; and second place runner-up in the Solstice Literary Journal poetry competition. Her poetry has been published in Spoon River Poetry Review, Cimarron Review, Evergreen Chronicles, Lilith Magazine, Kalliope, The Sun, Bark Magazine, Sow’s Ear Poetry Review, Seventeen Magazine and others. From 2008-2010 she served as the poet laureate of Northampton, Massachusetts. Currently she is a faculty member of Spalding University’s low-residency MFA in Writing program. Her newest poetry collection, I Carry My Mother was published in January 2015 by Headmistress Press.